The Architecture of Intimate Life: A Perspective on Human Sexual Behavior

Credit. Ego-Alter Ego. Ute Hadam, Artist

by LJ Frank, Editor and Sue DeGregorio-Rosen, RN, CLNC, Contributing Editor

This essay is an exploration of the rock-strewn ledge of human sexual behavior while peering over its edge into the undulating currents streaming below. For example, the allegory of Genesis gives a nod to the patriarchal view of humankind with man being created in the Creator’s image, implying that the creator (God) was a male figure with a phallus. Our thoughts here are a link to a previous reflection (see below).

The majority of primitive myths, beliefs, metaphors, and allegories of human sexuality appear to retain the rudimentary notions of man’s self-perception and subsequent patriarchal posture. The three great religions of the West, Judaism, Christianity, and Islam reflect man’s inclination for dominance in matters of sex. Still, there’s a multitude of other anthropological scientific views. Or, as Buddhist philosophy intimates, “All things are preceded by the mind, led by the mind, created by the mind.”

The evolution of the mind and the body is unquestionably intriguing, Science shows that growth has been in both small and large increments. Progress was achieved through adaptation.

During Paleolithic and Neolithic periods primitive humans were able to separate sexual intercourse and other acts into recreation and procreation. Timothy Taylor’s Prehistory of Sex is an excellent source for understanding the dynamics of the sexual understanding.  Monogamy was not the usual pattern for various female species according to D. Barash and J Lipton’s work, The Myth of Monogamy. That idea was not part of the vocabulary or thoughts of men and women. The architecture of a person’s intimate life was woven with tribe, family, culture, and over time religion, ritual, magic, and associate practices.

There were partnerships but the woman was viewed as having a greater role in the partnership and depending on the tribe was free to choose with whom she mated regardless of her primary partner. When tribes began developing farming and with the introduction of patriarchy with its human invented foundation, the idea of possession, such as land, animals, family, spouse, and servants emerged. Attitudes changed about what belonged to whom. Language and words effectuate acts in diverse forms. Things get complex.

Modern marriage is complicated. People two thousand years ago didn’t think of themselves as ancient. They were “modern” for their time.  What we think of marriage today is largely cultural and because of technological advances we see thing differently today. Taking a step back into the past thousands of years marriage had yet to be created that might resemble what we are familiar with today.

 Jealously, that was apparently not widespread as some scholars remind the researcher, became more so when patriarchy, servants, slaves, and animals were more formally incorporated within the structures of society and viewed as property. Personal space was another matter. That idea of personal and intimate space evolved over time.

It appears anecdotally, that patriarchy, property, personal, and intimate space were woven together depending on culture, retaining a possession and investment quality. Within the context of that investment an ownership construct developed within the human mind, e.g., my space, land, people, animals and material and immaterial objects. In religion the immaterial had a material quality such as the “word of God”. And with material came competition, envy, and jealousy. It was about possession and return on investment.  Whereas, nomadic tribes shared for the sake of survival, while farmers tended to share for a price of what they produced. Sex and relationships became more compartmentalized depending on the tribe/culture with rules, guidelines, and commandments to keep people in line. It was about control and power over one’s investment and possessions. There were exceptions.

And, throughout history, sex was a vehicle for more than just producing children but was to be experienced as part of natural behavior and at times within tribal rites and ceremonies.  It was also considered simply as fun and a joyful occasion and heterosexuality, homosexuality, and bisexuality were natural. Pansexual though more recent in conversation is also an ancient idea. It simply implies sexual or romantic attraction to all genders or combinations thereof. From a psychiatry perspective it’s linked to the theory that all human behavior is based on sexuality.

We know that cultural conditioning affects human behavior. A number of studies show such as The Manipulated Mind by Denise Winn, that people are subject to conditioning. And conditioning takes many forms – monogamy is one form of conditioning, mostly through a species of religious belief and philosophy. We are raised to see things in a certain way and think it’s natural or unnatural or perverse to whatever the norm is at the time. Our informal and formal education feeds into our conditioning, as noted in Brain Washing by Kathleen Taylor.

We also know that male and female relations are affected not only by religion, peer, and social/psychological constructs and pressure, but culture and local social structures that affects how we think, relate to each other and act. Non-monogamy for example, was at one time the norm, more for the female than the male according to Taylor’s studies.

Thousands of books and articles both electronic and hard print are available on lifestyles both within a marriage and external to marriage. People will believe what they to believe. Meanwhile, sexual behavior trends indicate the move toward making one’s own statement.

What was prohibitive before the turn of the twentieth-first   century is normal today. The stress of the world’s problems, the dynamic nature of relationships, marriage, all is changing in a very divided world.

Well-crafted, scientific surveys can be informative. The difficulty arises if and when the survey taker is not fully honest in their answers.  That says more about the individual than the design of the survey.

Sexual behavior is complex. In one of our surveys a few recently divorced women noted that they only cheated (through sexual intercourse) once during her four decades long marriages and that was with a single man or woman. Though after their divorce, they had several affairs that included married men and women.  Life is complex as is the human perspective. Contradictions abound as do behavioral translations. Fidelity and infidelity is not primarily sexual.

On a more profound level, Thomas Paine writing about infidelity in his book, Age of Reason, observed this about Man – Infidelity does not consist in believing, or in disbelieving: it consists in professing to believe in what he does not believe.

In the twenty-first century, fidelity to one’s beliefs, and necessary to adaptation, are threaded together creating unique social patterns. More people are remaining single and redefining their relationships with movement towards increased reassessment of work and life in general as well as self-awareness.

Paradigmatic partnerships are increasing around the world. We are living in a period of a rebirth of consciousness and thinking as a result of the downstream effects of technology and artificial intelligence, amid a changing physical world.  The challenge for humanity is their relationship with artificial intelligence and acceptance or non-acceptance of science.

More women have been and are becoming breadwinners and men are increasingly entering roles that previously were defined as a woman’s role while also working out of the home and within technological defined settings. The overlapping of roles will be great enough as to completely blur what was viewed once as traditional.

Reality about cheating? What was once labeled as cheating is markedly changing and is increasingly of questionable relevance. Cheating as a label is passé. Situation is dominant. 

A related example is in the Medical field: Lines get crossed. There are the on-call rooms (lots of sex going on in there, as several nurses have indicated in our survey) and marital status is of questionable relevance. And the Operating Room (OR) is where you see only eyes that can be very arousing, and there are also relationships that may start out sexual and end up in a marriage.  Sex in marriage or any relationship is more than just a penis inserted into a vagina. It involves all parts of the body in sensual acts of caring.

If two people are working in close quarters any exploration allows for greater verbal and non-verbal opportunities in communicating their concerns and desires.

With the development of AI or artificial intelligence, and life size dolls with interchangeable parts there are expanded possibilities on redefining how people relate to each other. How does one define fidelity when a woman has sex with a doll and also with her husband, is a minor example. The core value of any relationships is a mutual understanding and respect for the other person’s choice. Communication is essential. Arriving on the same page in that communication requires adaptation.

Traditions and paradigms come and go. The pressure to perform is relieved when the partner is free to walk a different path while maintaining the original foundation of the relationship. Monogamy is artificial. Desired by some but not necessarily for both partners.

The architecture of our intimate lives is changing on all levels and within all social and family related frameworks. We are enveloped in a world of ambiguity with adaptation being our instrument of leverage while being honest with ourselves.